By Reporters sans frontières
Proclaiming “Europe says NO to repression in Cuba,” Reporters Without Borders held a news conference at the European Parliament in Brussels today to mark the first anniversary of the start a wave of arrests in Cuba on 18 March 2003, which ended with a total of 75 dissidents, including 27 journalists, being sentenced to long prison terms.
Leading personalities and witnesses of the crackdown came to voice their views on the situation in Cuba. Spanish film-maker Fernando Arrabal was among those at the event, which was sponsored by Polish former dissident and former foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek and French writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy.
New campaigns to get European citizens and EU authorities involved
Reporters Without Borders unveiled new initiatives at the press conference that are designed to alert the European Union’s public and its decision-makers about the human rights violations that are still being committed by Fidel Castro’s regime.
The organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Menard, urged European parliamentarians to sign a “Brussels Declaration” in which they undertake to constantly petition the Cuban government for the release of the 75 dissidents and to call on the “European Commission and Council to pursue policies consistent with this goal.”
The declaration’s first signatories included Daniel Cohn-Bendit of France (president of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance); Emma Bonino of Italy (radical group of Non-Attached); Pervenche Beres of France (vice-president of the Group of the Party of European Socialists); Graham Watson of Scotland (president of the Group of the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party - ELDR); Jose Ribeiro e Castro of Portugal (Union for Europe of the Nations Group); Gerard Deprez of Belgium (European People’s Party) and Jules Maaten of Netherlands (ELDR).
Reporters Without Borders also announced the launch of a poster campaign aimed at encouraging the approximately 800,000 European tourists who visit Cuba each year to think about what goes on there behind the promotional cliches. The campaign’s visual is a young woman on beach wearing a T-shirt that says, “Cuba Si, Castro No.” The accompanying text says:
“Are you tempted by Cuba for your holidays, by its dreamy beaches and its frenetic rhythms? Watch out! Except in picture postcards, the Cuban sun doesn’t shine for everyone. The Castro regime arrested some 80 journalists, dissidents and human rights activists in March 2003 and gave them long prison sentences. For daring to talk about democracy in their country, some of them are going to spend up to 28 years in prison… Wise up to where you’re going!”
Reporters Without Borders also unveiled “Cuba, le livre noir” (Cuba, the Blanck Book), a collection of reports about Cuba by human rights groups - Amnesty International, Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, Human Rights Watch, Pax Christi Netherlands and Reporters Without Borders - which is being published in French-speaking countries to coincide with the anniversary.
The book reveals the scale of the spring 2003 crackdown and the way a totalitarian regime functions. It includes passages from Cuban legislation that is used to crush individual freedoms, as well as extracts from the main manifestos of the dissident groups that are trying to steer Cuba towards a democratic transition, and which are accused by the government of being the agents of US imperialism.
Leading personalities and witnesses condemn the human rights abuses
Poland’s former dissident Bronislaw Geremek was asked to open the press conference in part because it came just six weeks before eight former Soviet-bloc countries join the European Union on 1 May. In view of their past, these nations are expected to press for human rights to remain at the centre of the EU’s relations with their former bloc-partner Cuba.
After Geremek’s introduction, Bernard-Henri Levy spoke about the relationship between Europe’s intellectuals and Cuba, while Latin America specialist Elizabeth Burgos talked briefly about the history of repression in Cuba since the early years of the Castro regime.
Reporters Without Borders also wanted to give victims a chance to speak on this first anniversary. So several mothers of currently imprisoned journalists and dissidents who belong to the Miami-based group Mothers and Wives Against Repression (Madres y Mujeres Anti Represion - MAR) spoke next. Humberto Medrano, the former editor of the daily Prensa Libre, which was closed by the authorities in 1960, also described how the Castro regime imposed its centrally-controlled, uniform press system in the revolution’s early years.
The personal accounts concluded with “Monologue of a guilty person” by journalist and poet Raúl Rivero, which was read for him by Spanish film-director Fernando Arrabal. Winner of the Reporters Without Borders-Fondation de France Prize in 1997, Rivero is one of the leading exponents of independent journalism in Cuba. He was arrested on 20 March 2003 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Cuba became the world’s biggest prison for journalists on 18 March 2003
Cuba’s constitution only allows the governmental press to exist. Independent news agencies have tried to challenge the state’s monopoly of the news media for the past 10 years or so. As they are unable to get their reports and articles published inside Cuba, these agencies send them abroad where they are used by both websites and print media.
A total of 27 independent journalists were arrested in the course of the March 2003 crackdown, joining the three who were already in prison. They were convicted of actions against Cuba’s “independence and economy” under law 88 or “actions against the state’s independence and territorial integrity” under article 91 of the criminal code. In general, they were accused of collaborating with the United States by writing articles that gave a different view of Cuba from what the official press offers. Their reports were usually about the (not officially recognised) opposition, human rights violations or Cuban daily life.
Shortly after being convicted at the start of April, the journalists and all the other detained dissidents were transferred to prisons often hundreds of kilometres from their homes. Forced to undertake long and expensive journeys in order to visit them, their families complained of “a second sentence.” The prisoners receive the harshest treatment provided by Cuba’s prisons and are allowed only one family visit every three months (instead of every three weeks).
All have complained of abominable conditions: a lack of hygiene (cells infested by rats and cockroaches), a lack of medical care, revolting food, a lack of access to water and interception of their mail. Some, such as Oscar Espinosa Chepe, are seriously ill.
The latest reports concern Ivan Hernández Carrillo of the independent Patria agency, who is held at the Holguín provincial penitentiary in central Cuba. He went on hunger strike from 23 February to 14 March to press his demand to be moved to another wing after receiving death threats from cell-mates and being harassed by guards. Two other inmates at Holguín, journalist Adolfo Fernández Saínz and dissident Alfredo Domínguez Batista, also went on hunger strike in support of Hernández’s demand on 2 March. All three later reportedly called off the protest after he got his wish.
A special section of the Reporters Without Borders website (http://www.rsf.org), entitled “Cuba, the world’s biggest prison for journalists,” offers Internet users information about detained journalists, international reactions to their long prison sentences, and background briefing about how the news is controlled in Cuba.
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